Monday 12 April 2021

Week 15: Charlot, the criminal acrobat who fell to earth

100 years ago this week: Week 15

Sharing the name of the most popular movie character of the era, a daring acrobat gained his renown by putting his gymnastic skills to criminal ends. This week one hundred years ago, his life in crime came to a sticky end.

Take a leap back into the past here.

Charlot the acrobat who stole in stations

Charlot, an acrobat otherwise known as Jean-Marie Daudennet, operates more in stations than in the theatre. His numerous expeditions have earned him five convictions for theft. 

We have already reported how we discovered his "secret". Charlot returned in a taxi, bringing with him a variety of goods. The taxi knocked over a carriage of plums. Charlot shirked away. Two days later, during a search at 32, rue Brise-Miche, he stepped out of the window in the room of his friend, and slipped into the neighbouring appartment, taking French leave from the police.

We learned recently that a daring acrobat had been attempting jumps from one plane to another in Villacoublay, with both planes flying at 350 metres from the ground. This daredevil had to be Charlot. The Inspector Kerbat and one of his colleagues set out on his trail. They finally located him yesterday on the quai d'Ivry. When he saw them, Charlot made a quick defensive gesture. Inspector Kerbat, beleiving himself threatened, fired his revolver.

Charlot is in hospital.

L'Homme Libre, April 13, 1921


Another curious tale to unravel with an enigmatic lead character! This rather laconic report provides few details, but Charlot is an individual I have come across in several other publications. Who exactly was Jean-Marie Daudennet, and what really happened over this period of weeks 100 years ago?

First of all, Charlot is the French name for Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp character. Did Jean-Marie Daudennet look like him or did he pick up this nickname because he shared Chaplin's elasticity? Perhaps there was no connection at all, but it seems unlikely.

With five convictions, Charlot surely wasn't the most successful criminal of his time. Had he not been caught a few times though, he would not have been known, and I get the impression that this would have been harder for Daudennet to take than a few slaps on the wrist.

I have no details on his previous robberies, but judging from the title of the article and the information I have found on his final heist, it appears they followed a similar modus operandi. Charlot worked with a gang taking merchandise from trains, with his role involving entering the goods carriages and removing the produce whilst the train was moving.

For some reason, it seems his last robbery was a stock of shoes, which he abandoned in Paris after his taxi crashed into the carriage of plums. What particularly interested the media though is how he escaped from the police after that crime. He was tracked down to a friend's address, but managed to get away at the last instant. The article above says he passed through the window into a neighbour's apartment, but it seems it was more spectacular than that - and more befitting of a man of his abilities.

Le Petit Journal even produced a full-colour sketch of the incident! Although he is not named here, we see Charlot flying from one building to another, with the Keystone cops floundering behind him. 

What also interests me here is the address. Rue Brise-Miche still exists today, but this particular building was demolished. Standing in its place today is the Centre Pompidou!

Charlot's skills must have been very well known at the time if a police inspector immediately thought of him when he heard about the exploits of a flying acrobat. From other reports, it seems that this was Charlot's real trade, and that he was about to head off to Spain to join a flying acrobatic team.

Inspector Kerbat had other ideas though. Charlot was tracked down once again, and this time couldn't escape. The report here just ends with Charlot in hospital, but other reports indicate that he would never come out alive. 

The trail seems to end here. I cannot find confirmation of his death, and he seems to be forgotten to history now. If you can find any other details on the life of this most singular criminal, I would love to see them!

1 comment:

PAnderson said...

Hello. :) An American here. I'm glad to see you're back.
If you've seen lots of hits from American mid-Atlantic area the last few months, that's been me. Just ordered your book in paperback from Amazon-America. :)

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